Friday, August 14, 2009

Michael Gerson: crypto-Nazi

Perhaps if, responding to Gore Vidal’s calling him a “crypto-Nazi”, William Buckley had said, “If you call me a Nazi again I will tattoo, gas and cremate you,” then perhaps Michael Gerson would understand just how little Buckley’s response exonerates him of the charge. Instead, in today’s Post Gerson seems to plump with admiration for the Buckley’s comeback, which he quotes as, “Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered.” Of course Gerson elides the Buckley’s bigoted preface to this threat, “Now listen you queer…,” and he seems to have forgotten the unflappable, even bitchily gleeful derision with which Vidal responds to the pundit’s rather prissy threat, “Oh Bill.”

The actual footage is quite worth looking at, and even eerily representative of the discourse today. The situation is this: Vidal argues against our involvement in Vietnam, and Buckley says essentially ‘you want our troops to die’. Vidal, granting that his opinion is unpopular in places, adds, “I assume that the point of American democracy is that you can express any point of view you want.” Whereupon Buckley begins trying to shout him down with some basically incoherent and off-point crap about how some of those treacherous anti-war Europeans were also once pro-Nazi – which begets Vidal’s crack about crypto-Nazis. He’s essentially charging Buckley with projection.

Vidal’s courage in the face of Buckley barbarism doesn’t alter the fact the fascistic nature of Buckley’s tactic here; he’s saying precisely this: stop expressing that opinion or I’ll shut you up with force. One might even say that Buckley’s response is the kind of guilty-as-charged testimony one only gets on Perry Mason.

Of course, you can’t really expect Michael Gerson to show a nuanced understanding of Nazism, projection, or civilized discourse. This is, after all, the man who authored the phrase “axis of evil” in order to help sell elective warfare to the American people. Now, however he’s clutching his pearls over the nastiness in the health-car debate, the “town hells” et cetera. Not surprisingly he finds fault on both sides. He well recalls how the Lefties drew rude analogies between President Bush and Hitler, just because both had a penchant for warmongering, race-baiting, torture, and the Big Lie. Almost as wrong is the fact that a “few protestor,” a prominent Senator and a the world richest radio personality compare Obama’s hope for health care reform to the Hitler’s plan for the Jews. This vice, inherent to the bad actors of both parties in his view, he wants badly to rechristen the "Vidal tactic", going back forty some years for his paradigm case, and of course going way out of his way to avoid mention of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism.

In fact, neither Buckley nor Gerson seems to have much understanding of Nazism, or rather they have diametrically wrongheaded notion of the phenomenon. Gerson reverently invokes Buckley’s deeply self-serving and inadvertently self-disclosing defense of his threat to Vidal:

"Can such men understand the causes of anger in others? Understand the special reverence we need to feel for that which is hateful? I do not believe that anyone thought me a Nazi because Vidal called me one, but I do believe that everyone who heard him call me one without a sense of shock, without experiencing anger, thinks more tolerantly about Nazism than once he did, than even now he should."

In essence, Buckley bleats, all those who are not shocked by Vidal’s attack show themselves insufficiently hateful of the hateful. “Such men” clearly deserver a sock in the face, because they don’t recognize the negative exceptionalism of the Nazis.

For Buckley, Gerson and many other misguided souls, the Nazis represent something very special, something for which we need to feel “special reverence.” This is total bunk. The crimes of the Nazis and their fellow fascists were just the ever present “banality of evil” manifest on an industrial scale. Gerson is right when he say, “For the survivors of Nazism, memory is a kind of sacred duty.” But he himself is forgetting the real lesson. The banality of evil is in all of us, and to the degree that forget this and succumb to bigotry and xenophobia, we traffic in the same errors, the same neurosis, the same psychopathology that created the Holocaust. The more blithely we assume that we are niot as evil as Nazis, the greater risk that we will act just like them.

Gerson is also, it is worth noting, forgetting just how reprehensible Buckley’s record was. Buckley wrote a whole book in praise of Joseph McCarthy, an American fascist if ever there was one. And William Buckley, has a rich history of racism. At the time when potential for civil unrest of civil right was highest he was quite sympathetic to the idea that the superior White Race might have to resort to violence to thwart desegregation. He wrote:

The central question that emerges--and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalog of the rights of American citizens, born Equal--is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes--the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the median cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists. The question, as far as the White community is concerned, is whether the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage. The British believe they do, and acted accordingly, in Kenya, where the choice was dramatically one between civilization and barbarism, and elsewhere; the South, where the conflict is by no means dramatic, as in Kenya, nevertheless perceives important qualitative differences between its culture and the Negroes', and intends to assert its own.

National Review believes that the South's premises are correct. If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened. It is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority. Sometimes it becomes impossible to assert the will of a minority, in which case it must give way, and the society will regress; sometimes the numerical minority cannot prevail except by violence: then it must determine whether the prevalence of its will is worth the terrible price of violence.

So perhaps Gore Vidal should be forgiven for finding such faith in a Master Race “crypto-Nazi” and saying so. Perhaps too Vidal was moved to the charge by the fact that
William Buckley was frankly enamored of Spain’s fascist dictator. Again, Buckley wrote:

General Franco is an authentic national hero. It is generally conceded that he above others had the combination of talents, the perseverance, and the sense of righteousness of his cause, that were required to wrest Spain from the hands of the visionaries, ideologues, Marxists and nihlistis that were imposing on her, in the thirties, a regime so grotesque as to do violence to the Spanish soul, to deny, even Spain's historical identity.

Buckley later came to disavow some of his more pernicious positions, but at the time of his debate with Gore Vidal, the idea that Buckley was sympathetic to some Nazi principles was a matter of public record, indisputable. And Buckley's willingness to shout the charge down, while pinning a pink triangle to Vidal on national TV betokens the fact perfectly.


Post a Comment

<< Home